Engineers work with Walmart to improve Military Appreciation Tailgate operations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Industrial engineering (IE) graduate students are working with one of the world’s largest retailers to help improve processes at one of the largest events honoring past and current service members in central Pennsylvania.

The graduate students collaborated with Walmart and collected data at the Military Appreciation Tailgate in the fall at the Bryce Jordan Center, held prior to the Military Appreciation Game.

Walmart is the lead supplier of the food and supplies for the event.

Service Enterprise Engineering (SEE) 360 Scholars within the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering are working with the retailer to optimize the processes involved in efficiently serving a large group of people through a project called “Smart Party.”

This is the second year Penn State IE students have worked to develop engineering models to plan the service processes for the tailgate in terms of kitchen capacity, food chafers and waiting times. The most recent event drew more than 10,000 retired and active service members and their families.

For the past seven years, Penn State has hosted the Military Appreciation Game, during which donors provide tickets to veterans, current service members and military families through a program known as “Seats for Service Members.” The Marcus department has been a sponsor of event during each of those years.

Walmart has partnered with Penn State for the past five years to host a tailgate prior to the game. Combined, these efforts have been recognized as the largest military appreciation initiative in the Big Ten Conference.

More than 400 volunteers arrived at the Bryce Jordan Center beginning at 4 a.m. to set up in time for the doors to open at 8 a.m. 

SEE Fellow and IE graduate student Kai-Wen Tien, who also has a Graduate Excellence Fellowship, developed a model based on data collected at the event last year. Tien identified the four phases that the tailgate planning process consists of as system analysis, rough planning, detail planning and inventory control.

“I really enjoyed working on the creation of these models because it is my first opportunity to deal with a massive practical engineering problem while working with leaders in service engineering at Walmart,” said Tien. “In order to succeed and identify the best path of optimization, we separated one huge problem into several manageable small problems.”

The main idea of the optimization process is to consider the links between kitchen capacity, food storage and food line service to provide the highest service quality to customers. 

For graduate student Xiao He, another SEE scholar, the goal of collecting data at the tailgate in the fall was to calculate the average wait time per person being served. Xiao hopes to use this data to predict how long the wait time will be next year in an effort to optimize the process of throwing a large tailgate party.  

“I enjoy having the opportunity to impact the service decisions of a large and complex operation and working to make the event planning process as efficient and effective as possible moving forward,” said He.

Michael del Rosario, general transportation manager at Walmart, works closely with the Penn State IE students in order to enhance their learning while gaining helpful advice for carrying out the tailgate event.

“We at Walmart greatly enjoy our collaboration with Penn State and are happy to help enhance the curriculum and provide real world problems for the future engineering innovators of our society,” said del Rosario. “I am continuously impressed at the skills and knowledge these men and women have, and we are very excited to continue this partnership for years to come.” 

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Last Updated February 27, 2018